Communication plays a key role in a good relationship between a patient and their doctor.
Research shows that after receiving bad news, anxiety, distress and even anger can be felt by patients. Understandably, patients often can’t process information that is said to them following bad news.
Professor Fran Boyle AM says health practitioners are responsible for what happens in that conversation and it’s a time when they need to show empathy rather than provide vast amounts of information.
It’s important too that treatment teams check that a patient has understood what is being said to them. Health literacy can impact a patients understanding of their treatment and their disease, and can lead to greater distress.
So doctors have to remind themselves of what it is like to sit in the position of a patient and reading the memoirs of people who have been through a cancer experience can be very useful.
Here is an excellent resource called the The Patient Doctor by Dr Ben Bravery. Dr Bravery became a doctor after he survived bowel cancer.
Professor Boyle says that are a number of common words and terminology used in oncology that can be misinterpreted:
- the use of the word ‘positive’, which can have a very different meaning in breast cancer
- saying a patient failed treatment, when in fact the treatment failed the patient
- using ‘eligible’ in clinical trials, rather than ‘suitable’
She says using the right language may be the difference between someone willing to participate in a clinical trial, which may save their life, or running away because it sounds too scary.
Listen to Professor Boyle’s interview above, where she delves further into this topic.